As the final week of our Olympic Borough Folk Olympics tour approaches, may I present the third instalment for the Borough of Newham, the life of Elizabeth Fry.
‘The idea of waking up in our own filth and in very close proximity to someone of questionable looks and an equally low level level of personal hygiene is for many of us simply a fond memory of university days, but for many Londoners it was a very grim reality. That was before the arrival of a shy girl forever linked to the borough of Newham.’
Watch the video and enjoy the London song inspired by this tale, ‘Into The Dark’.
The idea of waking up in our own vomit, and in very close proximity to an individual of questionable looks and and an equally low level of personal hygiene is for most of us, simply a fond memory of university days. But for many Londoners it was a very grim daily reality. That was before the arrival of a very shy girl forever linked to the borough of Newham.
Elizabeth Fry was born in 1780 to a wealthy family of bankers. In fact her mother was part of the Barclays family. But a chance encounter with a visiting quaker not only set Elizabeth on a path to adopting the strict disciplines of the religion, but also created the a heart for London’s most down and out citizens.
After her marriage, Elizabeth Fry moved to East Ham to a house named Plashet House with the husband. One day she was invited to visit one of London’s most depressing sights, (worse than the over 30s singles night at Beckton Working Men’s club) Newgate prison. Now in those days Newgate prison wasn’t that bad if you had money. You could pay for your own room complete with bar and visiting prostitute. But if you had nothing, as was more more often the case, it was one of the worst experiences you can imagine.
Food wasn’t free, you had to pay for any scrap you received, and the filth was unimaginable. Only a quarter of inmates survived to see their execution date or release. The smell was so bad that shops in the surrounding areas had to close during the summer months. But Elizabeth Fry was not put off. She threw herself into helping those incarcerated in London.
Fry gained supporters and admirers, from Queen Victoria to Sir Robert Peel and would often invite noble folk to spend the night inside a prison to experience the conditions first-hand, an invitation the King of Prussia once took her up on.
In 1818 Elizabeth Fry became the first woman to present evidence inside the Houses of Parliament and all this while still squeezing in (or out) 11 kids.
Upon her death in 1845 Elizabeth Fry had become the chief campaigner for inmates right across Europe, as well as instrumental in bringing in improvements for homelessness and conditions within mental health hospitals. Today there are numerous buildings and monuments in her honour and of course she’s found on the face of a £5 note.
As if all that wasn’t enough, a nurses training programme she helped to set up, went on to inspire a distant relative of hers, Florence Nightingale.